Martial discipline and the cultural sphere
Imperialist crisis, rising fascism, and widespread heroin epidemics
Even the most fleeting look at the conditions we live in has many on the left concerned: internet posts venting about daily anxieties and the recent spread of armed left-wing (or left-leaning) militias, while being drastically different, share a commonality—both reflect the correct understanding that things are getting dangerous. Most liberal and revisionist thinkers will jump through academic and theoretical hoops to cling to the fantasy that life is continuing on as usual. Meanwhile, those of us who have never had the money or the privilege to entertain those illusions must begin looking deeper into the conditions of US imperialism that have created the various battlefields we find ourselves on here, in day-to-day life.
US imperialism is spreading itself thin, facing crisis after crisis, and frantically searching the globe in search of victims and resources. Its reign as top dog since the end of WWI is materially threatened by the rival and ascending imperialist powers of China and Russia, who entangle the reactionary US military in proxy wars. This is the same type of crisis of imperialism that Lenin first brought to light: it is inherent to capitalism that rival capitalist states and blocs of states come into increasingly sharp competition (often violently) for resources, labor, and markets. And what concern us here are the specific effects on the population of a declining imperialist country.
Not unlike the people in other declining imperialist countries, the people in the US are racked with a number of torments and depressions. For the majority of working-class youth there is little relief to be found in the belly of the beast: young working-class Americans use or sell drugs or work dead-end jobs for low wages. Sometimes they do all of this at once. Youth in particular, and the working class in general, experience this despair every day. It has become so commonplace that it seems like the way things have always been.
Heroin addiction has now spread from working-class communities into middle-class and wealthy white suburbs. But this increase in white middle-class drug use does nothing at all to stem the flow of drugs into working-class and oppressed-nations communities. On the contrary, this flood is increasing. This spread across classes is only further evidence of the effects declining US imperialism is having in its own strongholds. (Heroin use has increased fivefold over the past decade, becoming commonplace enough to affect more than 3.8 million Americans.)
Drugs in general, but especially drugs like heroin, have long been used as a fail-safe against rebellious populations, and they have found their place in the capitalist superstructure in US culture. Throughout history we have seen the powers-that-be give us narcotic anesthesia when our hearts cry out for guns and liberation. The dystopian landscape of the US prisonhouse is riddled with the discarded used needles of this hopeless decision.
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Similar issues have plagued others in the past, most notably in the Opium Wars inflicted by England on the Chinese people. China was at that time an underdeveloped and oppressed nation with a declining empire. Widespread addiction to opium had been forced on the Chinese people by England to the point that a majority of the population was left addicted. The trade in opium and enforcement of widespread addiction—a massive tool for profit and oppression—was taken up by Chinese warlords, who then forced the peasantry to abandon food cultivation for opium production, which they heavily taxed to outfit their scattered military bands. These conditions inspired “famine relief,” mostly from religious groups in the US (today this would be the job of NGOs as well). However well intended this charity was, it placed funds directly into the hands of warlords, perpetuating their rule.
In 1936, Edgar Snow, while observing poppy fields outside of Sian, wrote,
“Shensi has long been a noted opium province. During the great Northwest Famine which a few years ago took a toll of 3,000,000 lives, American Red Cross investigators attributed much of the tragedy to the cultivation of poppy, forced upon the peasants by tax-greedy militarists. The best land being devoted to the poppy, in the years of the drought there was a serious shortage of millet, wheat and corn, the staple cereals of the Northwest.”
Many peasants in this situation, robbed of their land, were forced into banditry or were press-ganged as soldiers for corrupt and absentee landlords who had developed into warlords. Opium helped to keep soldiers and even generals in line with colonialism as it swept through the country. These desperate and humiliating conditions inflicted upon the people gave rise to a desire for martial arts, physical culture, and a China that was not weak in the face of such tyrants.
The desire for martial strength was time and time again exploited and squandered by the reactionary nationalists of China, and this process is well under way in the United States. The youth of the US face a familiar desperation, and they too cry out for strength to confront their horrifying material reality. Many oppressed-nations youths find themselves in the imperialist military, duped into service when the only other potential options are low-wage jobs, unemployment, and drugs.
And these same conditions so favorable for dope epidemics are also fertile ground for fascism. Imperialist decline has historically been the soil for the most virulent outbreaks of fascism, and the US fascist movement has seen dramatic growth as a result of the US’s steady decline—the Trump presidency is not a result of anything else. A hungry, deindustrialized people, robbed of a communist party to lead them, are desperate for a break with the neoliberalism represented by the Clintons and the Obamas of the world. This has had an appeal to sections of the US population, particularly those steeped in traditions of settler-colonialism and scapegoat politics, and they reached out for this rupture in the form of a crass orange savior—Donald Trump.
Not everyone who thought Trump represented an appealing rupture with neoliberalism is a fascist. Some who even voted for him have since come to terms with the reality that he is actually just a continuation of US monopoly capitalist interests. Nonetheless, it is crucial to see and understand that the fascists have made use of these contradictions while much of the left scratches its head from its ivory tower while scoffing at the very masses they claim to care for.
The necessity of a decisive rupture with revisionist errors
Capitalism and its ruling classes are expert at suppressing revolution. In times of severe crisis they respond with fascism, but at other times capitalism responds to the threat of popular desire for socialism with revisionism. These are two rotted fruits from the same branch of capitalism. In the socialist countries revisionism is a way for capitalism to restore itself; but we must also see that in not-yet-socialist countries, it is a way for capitalism to derail and prevent socialist revolutions, regardless of their stage of development.
The modern revisionists tend to conjure the ghost of “ultra-leftism” as the number-one threat to the success of the communist movement. In reality, the main threat to the success of the left comes in the form of the default right-opportunism that is the go-to policy of the revisionists, substituting liberalism for Marxism and continuously squandering opportunities to build revolution. In short (even if they say otherwise), they focus exclusively on legalism.
This self-serving cowardice and elitism that calls itself leftism is nothing new. Lenin’s faction of the Social-Democratic Labor Party, the Bolsheviks (later the Communist Party), was born in struggle against a rival faction headed by social democrats (revisionists).
In an interview in 1925 Stalin explains certain conditions a party must undergo to achieve Bolshevization:
“The Party must regard itself not as an appendage of the parliamentary electoral machinery, as the Social-Democratic Party in fact does, and not as a gratuitous supplement to the trade unions, as certain Anarcho-Syndicalist elements sometimes claim it should be, but as the highest form of class association of the proletariat, the function of which is to lead all the other forms of proletarian organizations, from the trade unions to the Party’s group in parliament.”
“The entire work of the Party, particularly if Social-Democratic traditions have not yet been eradicated in it, must be reorganized on new, revolutionary lines, so that every step, every action, taken by the Party should naturally serve to revolutionize the masses, to train and educate the broad masses of the working class in the revolutionary spirit.”
Lenin and Stalin both represented a decisive break with social democracy. Bolshevization was utterly necessary for the party of the proletariat, to combat the ineffective and non-revolutionary nature of social democracy.
Two-line struggle takes place in every revolutionary effort. And just as the struggle against social democracy revealed to the Bolsheviks the new methods and styles of work necessary to march toward victory, today our efforts to abandon and make a decisive break with the useless methods of these modern Mensheviks must also bring us to new methods.
The grotesque liberalism of the revisionists
As the majority consumers of heroin became white middle- and upper-class young people, we have watched as politicians squirmed looking for “humane” methods of treating non–working class users. For our communities, which have been plagued by this poison all along, this comes with a certain sting, since the only thing our people were ever offered was incarceration and overdose. And truthfully, this has not changed—there is still one solution offered for them and another for us. As this process proceeded, this liberal apologism has seeped into leftism, taking the form of analyses that frame everything around individual choices. Motivated by a desire to protect the status quo where they can comfortably continue their casual drug use, and well-supported by their social networks and free from the harshest consequences faced by working-class users and communities, countless petit-bourgeois “leftists” avidly seek out and propagate rationalizations for drug use instead of analyzing the question in class terms, denying the devastating effect it has on working-class individuals and communities.
What are these Mensheviks’ pastimes? The petit-bourgeois youth who make up the majority of the revisionist movement spend their hours in sleek coffeehouses, vegan restaurants, and other cultural venues where working-class youths are not welcome and cannot afford. Working-class youth instead come of age on the basketball courts and in life-and-death street fights.
Culturally, the working class upholds symbols of physical prowess, with sportswear almost ubiquitous in working-class closets. We might not even have our Sunday best, but you can bet that we have track suits, sneakers, gym shorts, and hooded sweatshirts. Even the T-shirt itself was a working-class staple adopted from the military before it was appropriated by other classes. The elitist urban middle class turns its nose up at every bit of proletarian culture (until of course they decide to appropriate it for themselves and then exclude the working class from it). And this produces understandable class hatred toward them, and rural working-class Americans are not wrong when they identify the wealthy sections of urban populations not only as outsiders but as antagonistic ones.
The revisionist legal left parrots these anti-masses notions. They make anti–working class jokes, looking down on the populations of small towns and popular neighborhoods, seeing these masses as crass or irredeemably backward. They pride themselves on a style of dress that increases the visual distance between themselves and the working class. The tireless blaming of smaller-town masses for Trump; the association of enjoying wrestling, football, NASCAR, swap meets, or parking lot car shows with ignorance; and an aversion to martial arts and firearms—these are all rooted in anti-masses sentiment. The fact that leftists have not only failed to bridge this gap but so often actively disdain the idea of making any attempt to, has been extremely useful to right-wing organizers, be they fascists or religious fundamentalists.
The truth is, a large part of the growth of the fascist movement in the US is due to the fact that they have grasped a truth that very few on the left have: culture is a battlefield. In Germany, the Nazis understood this; Nazi playwright Hanns Jost famously said, “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ that’s when I reach for my revolver” (literally “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I take the safety off my Browning”). In our own context, the fascists’ correct understanding that culture is a critical site of struggle—of war—has allowed fascism to spread. The right has both its digital brigades and its street brigades—it has music, movies, and visual arts. But more importantly we see it dominate in areas of martial resources: gun shows, hunting, contact fighting, sports, and so on.
We must understand that fascism has had the opportunity to appeal to and win over some sections of our class because the task of approaching them was deemed unfeasible and thus neglected due to the revisionist disdain for physical activity and emphasis on vain academic pursuits (ortho-Marxist do-nothings being only the most glaring example). Fascists loathe losing a fight, and many times when the numbers are even they will best the fighters of the left. While some self-identified leftists are practicing their Tai Chi, the fascist pursues and recruits among and with violent contact sports and martial arts. Revisionists have abandoned this trench and given fascists free rein. The reality is that sports clubs and martial arts are either explicitly or implicitly misrepresented by liberals to be irredeemably chauvinist. And while there is machismo in these places (surprise! just as there is in the rest of society), this analysis weakens the left both physically and strategically.
Communists should not seek to stand apart from the masses! We should eat where they eat, live where they live, and wear what they wear. It is petit-bourgeois individualism that seeks separation. This is the shape the error takes. It is no wonder at all why the working class has so often lately ignored leftism.
The working class and violence
“I don’t know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.”—Lenin
Anyone who knows even a small amount of the history of leftism in the US can easily recall times when revolutionary politics succeeded in becoming genuinely appealing to large sections of the working-class masses.
From the Panthers to the Brown Berets, when urban youth forced into despair looked at them, the first thing that caught their attention was their militant appearance. The image of women and men in leather jackets with rifles and military attire made an irresistible promise of the possibility of relief from the grinding hopelessness and powerlessness of life under capitalism and white supremacy. A far cry from the lukewarm bookish internet professor, these revolutionaries meant business, and they looked the part. In spite of some real shortcomings, the revolutionaries of that period left a burning memory on the consciousness of the working class.
While all culture under capitalism (with the only exception being the revolutionary culture of rebellion) is in essence bourgeois propaganda, we must understand that propaganda is designed for a specific purpose: to resonate with a specific demographic to achieve a specific effect. For example, many readers who are not proletarian may not understand the reasons that NASCAR is widely popular: The sport requires daring and endurance, and raw power and complex mechanics are constantly at play. These are appealing to the proletariat because of its relationship to production; because the working class often dares to defy death, on scaffolding or in mines; because it must constantly endure the physical challenges of work; because it requires a level of mechanical knowledge; and most of all it is because it is desperate for the power it is robbed of.
Most appealing to the working class is physical violence. In popular neighborhoods, most serious disputes are solved by violent means, and workers find alien the method of phony compassion that liberal society prefers, a method that insists on using the proxies of the capitalist state to carry out violence that is actually even more severe. A petty crime between workers might be settled with a square go—someone might get hurt or even have to get stitched up—but this is nothing when stacked up against police intervention, with its unrestrained and sadistic brutality, the violence of long incarceration, or even death. Needless to say, the proletariat and the petite bourgeoisie have notably different experiences of and conceptions about the role of violence in life, in the world, and in history. Every working-class person has experienced violence at some point in their life, whether in the streets, at school, at work, or at the hands of the police. The petite bourgeoisie on the other hand can often live full lives into adulthood or old age without ever encountering violence directly. For them violence is an aberration, an unfortunate random circumstance that happened to the wrong person. For us workers, violence is a fact of life that we adapt to or are broken by.
The working class is a class that by its very nature seeks discipline, and has an infinite creative potential for revolutionary violence. The proletariat is without a doubt the toughest class ever to have existed, because it is burdened with the responsibility of ending all classes. It exists to do away with itself, and so it is condemned to win.
Working-class youth have always been attracted to real acts of rebellion. While activists wring their hands and say, “You’re going too far!” and “What about our votes?” the youth of our class are burning cop cars and shutting down cities. Without these youth, activism becomes just another sensible business complete with paid staff doing their best to prove to their ruling-class bosses that they can effectively manage the riffraff. Any future party and every party-building effort must take heed that to lead this class we must take their ideas, ideas that include urban riots and direct physical confrontation. We do not seek to become the party of the petite bourgeoisie! We must stand out starkly against the sea of revisionists in militant contrast as a fighting organization of revolutionary communists. And while street fights and riots alone are not revolution, they are powerful propaganda.
The masses themselves, who belong to no communist party or pre-party formation, have shown the way forward, without prompting, while revisionists hang back, wagging their fingers in disapproval, mesmerized by the idealist illusions that they turn to out of their deep fear of violence, sacrifice, and struggle. They expect to rely on the reactionary police and military for any and all defense, which more than anything shows which class they actually stand with. The black women’s militias that have begun popping up in Dallas and other cities, as just one example among many, continue to prove that the masses already grasp the solution, and in this case they lead the way.
A martial philosophy for the people
“Physical education not only strengthens the body but also enhances our knowledge. There is a saying: Civilize the mind and make savage the body. This is an apt saying. In order to civilize the mind one must first make savage the body. If the body is made savage, then the civilized mind will follow.”—Mao
Mao Zedong’s very first published article was on the topic of physical education. He explained how a strong China would need a tempered people to deal with the turbulence ahead:
“Exercise should be savage and rude. To be able to leap on horseback and to shoot at the same time; to go from battle to battle; to shake the mountains by one’s cries, and the colors of the sky by one’s roars of anger; to have the strength to uproot mountains like Hsiang Yu and the audacity to pierce the mark like Yu Chi—all this is savage and rude and has nothing to do with delicacy. In order to progress in exercise, one must be savage. If one is savage, one will have great vigor and strong muscles and bones. The method of exercise should be rude; then one can apply oneself seriously and it will be easy to exercise. These two things are especially important for beginners.”
We agree with Mao and add that this is just as true for us as it was for the Chinese people of his time. Mao understood this even before he had become a communist, as early as 1917. What lies ahead for the US left, at least in the short term, is a series of fights that we are underprepared for; we, like our class, have been robbed by drugs and liberal ideology, having some of our most valuable resources deprived from us. In the face of these circumstances, we argue that it is high time to embrace martial discipline and physical education as communists. It was this attitude toward discipline and physical strength that allowed the Chinese communists to eradicate drug addiction in China and build the country into the strongest socialist project to date, before capitalism was restored and addiction returned with it in the Deng years.
To teach the masses we must learn from the masses and learn to live as they live and speak as they speak. Liberalism makes itself visible in every revisionist organization, and one of the most severe consequences of this infection of liberal cowardice is that it leads the left to reject physical training and armed self-defense and to condemn proletarian culture in an effort to make itself seem refined, dignified, and acceptable to bourgeois and middle-class culture. Revolutionary communism, which is just reemerging, must bash through these falsehoods in order to pose a real threat to the system. In order to be born, revolutionary communism must attack and beat back revisionism. The two cannot peacefully coexist.
In confronting today’s revisionism, which is a contagion in the US left, our response, like that of the Communist Party of Peru, must be to dynamically apply Maoist principles to our specific conditions. For our collectives this means militarization.
Just as the Bolsheviks before us steeled themselves, becoming professional revolutionaries, we must steel ourselves in military discipline. We must be both politician and soldier. This is the requirement of our time, and we must stop avoiding the matter. We are physically weak against the fascist threat, and revisionism has been the source of this weakness. Although this particular issue has seen improvement in a few cities where Maoists are the best organized among the left, legalism remains one of the main obstacles holding back party-building efforts in the US, leaving the masses few fighting organizations with their interests at heart.
The propaganda victory among the working class that beating fascists in the streets offers cannot be undervalued. Every picture of a bloodied fascist and every trophy ripped away from the enemy inspires more people to cross the line from ideological opposition to physical confrontation. While our strategy always calls upon us to rely on greater numbers, we must also develop better fighters.
Lessons from the KPD
In the post-WWI years Germany was facing a profound imperialist crisis at home—with a failing economy, mass unemployment, and widespread despair. In these conditions fascism and communism contended in bloody street battles. Although fascism would eventually emerge dominant from these conditions, when it in turn was crushed, it was crushed by trained red militaries. The German Communist Party (KPD) led many mass organizations and initiatives against fascism, the most notable being the Red Front and Antifascist Action. The members of these projects were trained in street fighting and in firearms use (which they used many times, for instance to kill notable fascists like Horst Wessel, writer of the Nazis’ national anthem). And it must not be ignored that what the original Antifascist Action had in spades, its mostly anarchist contemporary namesake lacks: military training and a martial viewpoint.
It was seen as a success by the KPD of those days to have overcome its own legalism and drawn stark demarcations between itself and the social democrats. Coordinated strikes and illegal street demonstrations in defiance of police bans were not uncommon. They were taking up confrontations not only with the fascists but with the state itself. The level of violence of these demonstrations combined with the numbers they could draw revealed that the masses themselves had made a breakthrough, led by the communist party. We must learn from their experience and see every demonstration as a training ground for what is to come.
The KPD in their street war against the fascists left no trench vacant; they organized some of their bravest fighters from the local sports clubs in urban industrial slums of Berlin. These were the popular neighborhoods, broken by war and crisis, where the proletariat had little to no social outlets, neighborhoods like Neukölln and Wedding. The KPD would set up sports clubs or make sports fields out of vacant lots in its effort to serve the people.
Even the sections of the working-class youth that were prone to crime came under party influence with the development of hiking clubs, which would often (even without the party’s consent) expropriate camping gear from wealthy hiking/camping clubs. These red youth clubs not only made war against bourgeois youth but were also mobilized in the hundreds when it came to fighting fascism in the streets. Slogans like “[So-and-So] is a fascist and a danger to you workers! Hit him if you see him!” were posted up on the streets where fascists lived, drank, and worked. The German working class, huge sections of which were out of work, was recruited into fighting organizations, and every place became a battlefield, from beer taverns to hiking trails to sports games. Anywhere a fascist tried to act in the popular neighborhoods, the KPD or one of its many self-defense organizations was sure to respond. Even the social-fascist Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) scrambled to form its own (anti-communist) street-fighting units in response to the popularity of the KPD mass organizations.
The Red Front was structured along military lines and was a banned organization offering self-defense for the proletariat, including the unemployed. The Red Front, unlike the Nazi Party, did not enjoy plentiful financial backing from the petite bourgeoisie. A Comintern handbook from 1931 distributed to the German revolutionaries succinctly underlines this point by mentioning that “knives, brass knuckles, oil-soaked rags, axes, bricks, boiling water to pour on the police-beasts raging in the streets of workers’ quarters, simple hand–grenades made of dynamite, to emphasize only the most primitive of the infinite and ubiquitous possibilities[, are all means] for arming the proletariat.”
Using methods similar to those of the people’s war in Peru, the KPD sought to use mass organizations to develop armed and disciplined fighters for self-defense, though unlike the Peruvian revolutionaries the KPD lacked a people’s army as well as the strategy of people’s war, which was only then emerging in China.
The process of reclaiming violence is essential to undertake, and we must start now. To accomplish this work effectively we must smash liberal snobbery and go where the liberals fear to tread.
Many in the US Maoist movement are familiar and comfortable with proletarian environments. They are the same rugged places where most of us were born and the conditions that raised us. Still, somewhere in the process of politicization some of these same comrades have defected culturally, assuming the identity of upwardly mobile student or well-mannered activist—evidence of revisionism in the revolutionary movement. Others, who may be from other class backgrounds, have not yet been proletarianized, and have not yet taken a proletarian class stand, especially in the realm of culture. Many just fear to broach these subjects, and some have good reason for being hesitant to enter some of these spaces. Nonetheless these important trenches of combat must not be neglected any longer. This neglect comes at the expense of our class and our cause. In the worst cases, revisionism has turned former comrades into shills for liberalism, where liberals are in turn shills for fascism. Reclaiming violence means making revolutionary violence available to be utilized by all types of comrades at all levels and all abilities. It means training physically in flexible ways applied to the specific conditions of specific groups. Everyone, regardless of ability, can improve. This is not to do away all at once with the division of violent labor; the science of revolutionary violence is universal, and it must at the same time be applied with great care to the specific. In this process of trial and error we sharpen and broaden our skillsets.
Martial arts, firearms, and sports must be seen as cultural battlefields as well as invaluable tools in our revolutionary toolkit. It is the reactionary nature of the system to exclude those in most need of a resource from that very resource, even when those in need seek it out specifically. This is very apparent with the gendering that goes into sports and combat. While some of the most reactionary imperialist militaries have wised up enough to include women as soldiers, they still make sure that martial culture is coded as masculine. But nothing about the concept of a battlefield implies that we take it as it is and leave it that way. To the contrary, every soldier entering onto a battlefield has the intention and effect of altering what they find there, and culture must be approached in this same way. Martial arts training must be understood in the way we approach any form of education—as revolutionary communists. While reactionaries and many fascists will not take this step of orienting toward and recruiting women and other gender-oppressed people as soldiers, communists have a tradition of doing just this. In this we not only advance the proletarian women’s struggle, but we also advance the proletarian struggle in general by at least doubling our numbers.
Fully pursuing this rupture with the prevailing errors requires opening up work in many new trenches, but it also means applying all relevant lessons to our currently ongoing work.
The KPD sports clubs existed in a time without NGOs or community centers run in the interest of the city’s ruling class. But the bourgeoisie have since better learned to provide certain concessions as a way of attempting to maintain control over the working class. If that means building a rec center or a park in the hood, that is what they will do. We must understand as well as the bourgeoisie do that they offer charity and social programs as a counterrevolutionary measure. The working class is of course correct in fighting like hell to maintain these spaces and keep these concessions from being taken away—and simply put, life would be harder without these hard-earned outlets.
Service programs that operate along revolutionary lines do exist to provide for the working class what this system has denied them, but of course this crucially includes revolutionary politics and guidance in revolutionary violence. Organizations like Serve the People, which has branches in Austin, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Charlotte, Tampa, and Pittsburgh, not only provide goods and services but also exposure to and inclusion within communist methods and objectives. With all of these programs, like those of the Panthers who inspired them, what makes them dangerous to the bourgeoisie is their politics—infinitely more dangerous than free breakfast or diapers offered with a politics of charity.
Nonetheless these programs can undergo a certain form of NGOization if they become nothing but charities. And what’s more, we must not simply view these organizations as charity with revolutionary politics grafted on—revolutionary politics must be an integral part of, and the guiding force of, everything we do, including every decision we make about providing resources.
We must also see that the error of NGOization is not disconnected from the prevailing one in the left, either in form or substance: where petit-bourgeois “leftists” simply want to provide enabling indulgence to drug users in their current state, communists must always seek to provide revolutionary transformation. The working class very correctly bears a certain loathing toward liberal charity with its paternalism and phony sensitivity and compassion. They can see clearly that the mind of the liberal activist is self-centered and focused on whatever good feelings it can generate for itself by “helping others,” all while perpetuating the conditions of oppression and exploitation, not unlike Christian “famine relief” in pre-revolutionary China.
The establishment of dual power is a long process, but it necessarily includes both legal and illegal activity as well as community self-defense. Existing programs don masks and force gentrifying hipsters out of oppressed-nations neighborhoods with the threat of violence in LA. In Austin the organization has offered medics for front-line rally defense, gone into struggles around housing issues, offered entry-level self-defense and de-arrest tactics to the masses in their community, and has refused to ever seek a permit from the ruling class for any action or to disperse when threatened by city bureaucrats. Seeking such a permit would only be paying the enemy to do exactly what we do not accept them doing—policing us and the people.
All service to the people programs, whether or not they are part of the countrywide effort, must pay close attention to the cultural needs and wants of the people. To ignore this is to ignore a major field of ideas and to abandon the mass line method of leading the people. We must struggle to form red fighting gyms and reclaim old ball courts as part of this mass work, fulfilling the needs of the people wherever we find them. And we must go and merge with the masses in all these venues where they already spend time.
When we have taken up these tasks with sincerity and dedication, we will have truly begun building the movement that working-class youth in their masses will unite with.
Who endures wins
Taking up physical culture and establishing it as a trench of combat were integral to the Chinese people’s victory over drug addiction and became a valued weapon in the arsenal of the Chinese communists. When the masses are weakened, they reach out for strength, and this is as elementary as the principle that oppression breeds resistance. Martial arts increased in popularity among the people and took on a class character in response to the feelings of being dominated by a foreign power. In the US, the popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) and other forms of organized fighting has only been increasing.
Part of overcoming drug addiction is physical activity, and antifascism as well is in many cases a physical activity requiring strength of mind and body. A defanged, domesticated left is not only useless—it is a liability. All things take on a new character when wielded by a class; the fascist conception of physical training differs radically from the communist conception. Fascism in all its hyper-reactionary fury seeks to force things backward and drive the worst in humanity to even darker forms. Communism on the other hand is a revolutionary project, always moving forward. Its focus is the creation of a new society without states or classes. This new society is contingent on the emergence of new human beings, new ideas, and new values. We must approach our physical training with this spirit; we must approach humbly, without the toxic vanity that seeks show muscles, which are for the most part useless in combat.
Changes in general, including changes in the composition, culture, and ability of the left, occur through struggle and never through peace or tranquility. According to the Communist Party of Peru,
“We will immediately begin the socialist revolution, and that interval of blood and victory will be one of profound disequilibrium; even after we seize power there will be troubles and tempestuous winds. Thus these types of situations strengthen us; that is, this is how communists are forged, in turbulence and difficulty, never in calm. It is said that he/she wins who endures to the end and we know how to endure to the end because we have the true ideology: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.”
We can understand this principle as it applies to physical culture and martial life by seeing how necessity forces us to seek rectification. It quite easy to give up on thinking like a soldier when you have spent so long in revisionist circles avoiding the war. With the exception of some accomplished antifascists, we have a left that is ideologically and physically out of shape, with very few fighters who could hold their own in a street fight. Sometimes comrades must be humbled by their defeats in order to find the determination to struggle for the strength to win. Physical culture in the US left will not fall from the sky! It can and must be consciously sought by communists.
Just as the body is ignored in the liberal conception of drug use in favor of mental gymnastics, the physique of our fighters has also been neglected. What we cannot do without in the conditions that confront us is a physical and thorough antifascist culture.
The mentality of avoiding physical confrontation is hegemonic in the left, and this can be seen in the way the habitual protest activists organize. They have determined the field of combat not to be the popular neighborhoods, where the proletarian masses live, and have instead consciously chosen sites they deem safe, in city centers, well within their comfort zones. These sites exist in activist culture in every US city: the downtown capitol building (for Austin), town squares, and similar sites in other cities—you can bet these will be the location for every toothless liberal and revisionist event. You may ask why they choose to have the same ineffective, docile, ritualistic actions at these sites, and many cannot give an honest answer; the truth is, they do it out of habit. These habits and “traditions” did not just appear out of nowhere, though.
Maoists must struggle to examine these phenomena in class terms, and doing so allows for a few conclusions. These sites become habitual for the NGO, revisionist, and liberal organizations because these organizations in reality see defense as something that should be in the exclusive control of the state. When communists or anarchists organize for self-defense committees to protect their own demonstrations, the revisionist shrieks “ultra-leftism” because they are allergic to the very idea of a fistfight, and they still see violence as the unassailable private property of the state. Their refusal to train physically for combat is nothing short of their insistence that the very system they claim to oppose will in fact protect them. Perhaps it will, since they are its mild-mannered agents, similar to managers on the shop floor and the leadership of yellow unions.
The revisionists’ aversions to self-defense, arms training, and physical culture all stem from their thoroughly revisionist conceptions of legalism, entryism, and electoral cretinism. They have come to see themselves as a part of the system itself: it is their system, and the cops will protect them or carry out only the most superficial acts of repression—the occasional preplanned arrest or sometimes opportunist arrests “caused by” the dreaded “ultra-left.” This thinking has disarmed and disoriented many who show up to these rallies only to wind up wanting more after the tame revisionist actions concluded quietly. This thinking has systematically limited participation to only those masses who are willing to listen to the revisionists while excluding those who are fed up to the point of rebellion—rebellion that, when it occurs, draws forth swarms of revisionists who seek to capitalize off of the people’s struggles. They flock to places like Ferguson, Missouri, which had never seen any interest from any of the major revisionists until the people themselves started burning shit down. The poverty tourists arrive to sell their newspapers and quell the rage of the people, the people who have never once been protected by the police and the system, unlike these activists.
So what does self-defense mean for the rest of us? What does it mean for enemies of the state? It can only mean that we must develop red physical culture. It means that we must contend for ground that has been ceded to the enemy. That we train in both hand-to-hand combat and in weapons. We must take community self-defense seriously. We must walk away from the comfort zone of the legal left, and by extension it means that those who protect them are sure to attack us. It means that we return to our filthy neighborhoods of cramped apartment complexes and organize right there among our class. It means that we choose the field of combat thoughtfully and not out of uninventive and timid habit. We cannot expect a mass antifascist movement to develop its necessarily revolutionary character unless we move away from the state-ordained protest zones. We owe it to the people to become worthy fighters. We owe it to the people of Charlottesville and to our antifascist martyrs (three so far this year; as this article was being written we were just getting news of white-supremacist terrorism against antifascists in Charlottesville.)
Many revisionists would sit in the comfort of their middle-class homes laughing at the fascists who appeared on the scene with helmets and shields; they would accuse the right of pretending. The reality however is that they were not pretending—they used them aggressively against mostly unequipped leftists. While sections of the left were prepared for these confrontations, there has been a lack of effort to prepare the masses for such a battle. In Austin, our shields and sticks have gone blow for blow with the fascist enemy; it is not a costume as some would understand it (although there is a propaganda element of the theatric).
We are to our knowledge the only communist organization in the US that has been specifically targeted by fascists in the absence of a specifically antifascist action—which occurred when they mobilized and imported people into our city to confront this year’s May Day action. They too were not pretending. We must evaluate and understand their reasoning for this—they see us as their main enemy due to our ideology and our effectiveness. This reality has allowed us to improve our work and planning. It has led us to improve our physical skill with fighting, training, and street tactics. We are grateful for this experience, understanding that hardship makes us better revolutionaries. Our conditions are clear and illustrate the need for adopting serious physical education.
The war is not coming—it is here and now. We must take our historic task seriously. We must accumulate forces and steel them in small-scale street battles. We must respond accordingly to the apocalyptic reality that capitalism-imperialism has forced on us. There is no third way, no middle road, and all who refuse to grasp this have in fact chosen a side already—they have chosen the side of business as usual for oppression. We too have chosen our side and we have stood and will stand on the front lines of class struggles in the US. We are at war and we always have been—it is time we behave like soldiers. We are guided by the promise of communism. The world is in chaos, and we must choose either the socialist future or the barbarism of extinction, and this is what it means to live in the age of the strategic offensive.
Go all out for class struggle!
Train to win!
Enter the cultural trenches of combat!
—Red Guards Austin, August 2017